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Hello world!

by on September 28, 2012

Welcome to the course blog for Performing Objects: Automata, Puppets, and Robots, a second year study option at the University of Exeter!


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  2. Is this the right place to blog please? Still finding my way round the site! Emma

  3. From our session and introduction to Performing Objects on Friday 28th September, I was pleasantly surprised. I chose to study automata, puppetry and robots because they have always intrigued me, but I realised how very little I actually know about them. I enjoyed learning about the Jaquet-Droz automata and the intricate clockwork mechanisms inside each of them. However, I can’t help but think that although The Wrier, The Musician and The Draughtsman look very real from the outside, the clockwork structure reveals a very different scenario. It’s the same feeling I have when I look at my mobile phone – it seems harmless and pretty from the outside, but without it’s cover, it is an ugly and scary structure of intricate pieces that make it function, and suddenly it isn’t so pretty anymore. This links to Mori’s hypothesis of The Uncanny Valley.

    I wanted to know a little more about the clock in the Strasbourg Cathedral that we talked about, because in the picture it looked really grand. ‘The Clock of The Three Kings” has three sections: a calendar, an astrolabe and a statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Every hour when the chimes ring The Wise Men appear and bow and an automaton cock crows and flaps its wings!

    Watching some clips from the Royal de Luxe performances has made me want to make my own giant puppet to parade!

  4. * The Writer

  5. Harry Kingscott permalink

    After our first lecture on Performing Objects I was puzzling over robots/automata and what it is that makes them so fascinating to us. I decided to watch ‘Prometheus’, a recently released sci-fi film which questions the origins of humanity. It was interesting to watch a central character, ‘David’ as he was a robot designed to look identical to a human due to the fact humans ‘are much more comfortable interacting with your own kind’.
    As we learnt from the lecture, people have been developing automata/robots for hundreds of years and it was interesting to compare some of the automata mentioned in the lecture, to the character of David. He was the finished product, in a sense, of all the previous work into automata that had happened before. Humans have been striving to create artificial life for centuries but seeing David made me feel uneasy. He appeared totally human, he had even been taught to recognise emotions but the fact that you knew he was not human, and indeed, the fact that he seemed more-than-human, in the sense that he was incredibly intelligent and efficient, was very unnerving to witness.
    Which, of course, reminds us of Mori’s ‘Uncanny Valley’ theory that as automata/robots are built to look more human, after a certain point, they create a sense of unease. The director of ‘Prometheus’ very cleverly played on this notion and, as a result, the audience is led to believe for most of the film that David is an evil character.
    Another interesting point made by the film (Spoiler Alert!) is that they discover that humans were created by alien beings who themselves look very human. So we have been spending years creating objects to look like us and, in the film, they discover that we ourselves have been created to resemble our creators. (Also reminiscent of what it says in the Bible: ‘God created man in his own image’ Genesis 1:27)
    The film then uses this concept, that we have been engineered, to question why there is such a great human interest in creating artificial life. It questions why we were created by these aliens, which makes one question why, in the real world, do we strive to create artificial life ourselves? What do we hope to achieve from creating artificial life?

  6. mr353 permalink

    For my Birthday I ordered a bunch of German Expressionist films from the 1920′s such as “M” or “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”. Probably the most famous amongst the ones i bought was “Metropolis” in which we are taken on an adventure through a dystopian city where the rich live in luxury above ground and the poor live in a in a large mine shaft dubbed “The workers’ city”. One important character is called Rotwang, the mad scientist, who create a robot in the image of a woman he once loved named Hel. Much like the story of Descartes’ daughter, Rotwang seeks to create genuine life through the use of automata.

    The same robot is later given the appearance of Maria, a saintly social activist in the worker’s city, by Rotwang on the orders of the master of Metropolis. They use this woman robot to cause havoc in the city and in doing so discredit the real Maria. At one point they send her to perform at some of the local cabarets in the upper city whereupon men kill each other mad with lust to get her attention. I thought it was interesting that the most desirable woman to this society was a machine made by a man.

    • Yes, Metropolis is a brilliant film and a terrific example of both German Expressionist film and robots. And your gender reading of Maria’s robotic double is very interesting. You could definitely write your essay for the course on Metropolis.

      Here’s a clip from Metropolis where Rotwang, the mad scientist, brings Maria to life:

  7. tashi2012 permalink

    I found the first seminar of Performing Objects really interesting and was intrigued by the lengths people go to in order to create human-like, realistic looking robots. I’m excited by the relevance of the course to the modern day in terms of the rate at which technology’s currently moving. I see robots and humans as something entirely separate and although it’s a bit freaky seeing a robot looking so human like, in terms of what it does and the way it works I don’t regard it as being any more human like than say an IPhone or speakers because essentially they are all self-functioning electric/clockwork powered objects, it’s only the physical resemblance to a human that makes a robot seem disturbing. The initial reading we were given, ‘Edisons Eve’, mentioned the idea of a robot displaying emotions but not ‘experiencing’ them. This really stood out to me and made me question just how much further technology will be able to go in terms of creating robots that are ‘realistic’, both inside and out. I don’t question the ethics behind dismantling robots that display emotions but do not experience them as I’d regard experiencing emotions as being the unique animal quality which they don’t share with us. But if we could artificially synthesise emotions that’s where I feel we’d really start to cross the line of what it means to be human/robot because it gives them the chance really ‘live’ and not be eternally living/un-dead in the way that they are now. I’m looking forward to discussing it more in the seminars and finding out other peoples’ standpoints.

    On another note we briefly looked at Cyborgs which I find really fascinating. It made me think of the way that we can use robots not just as experiment to help us understand what makes us human but for practical purposes, such as in the case of limb-loss. Combining robots and humans is a really interesting idea in terms of how we can use robots to serve us and essentially ‘regrow’ parts of our bodies. I also find it to be a far more valuable use of technology than say, rapidly developing millions of different types of phone. I’m not sure if we’ve actually come that far yet by way of developing robotic body parts that can attach/respond to human nerve endings. As far as I’m aware the Para-Olympics makes use of blades that don’t involve anything electrical but work simply by responding to the moving part of the body directly above, to which they’re attached. I’m not sure that we’ll cover any of this in future seminars but I’m intrigued to find out more about it and looking forward to whatever we’ll be covering next.

  8. Simon permalink

    Following on from what was mentioned in the first seminar, the idea of the “Uncanny Valley” was something that I found particularly interesting. I’ve been trying to work out whether the phenomenon is purely that of ‘the familiar becoming strange’, or if there’s a deeper psychological reaction that we as humans seem to have to such accurate representations of people through automata. The idea of the apparent morbidity that certain examples of particularly human automata posess does seem to have a good degree of validity to it, but I think that perhaps a large percentage of the ‘unhomelike’ phenomenon that we feel as humans may be due to an element of incomprehension.
    I wondered if perhaps the knowledge that the object is NOT living causes friction in our minds with what our brains believe that they are perceiving? In a way, perhaps our brain becomes confused due to conflicting information that it is receiving and posessing, and maybe its reaction even has an underlying element of fear to it?
    I’ve found a clip from a TV show I saw a few months ago by James May, where he’s investigating robotics and its applications and limitations within the modern world, and I think that it’s a particularly good example of ‘Uncanny Automata’ and would like to hear what other people think of it?

  9. Following on from what we saw in the lecture about the giant walking robots and what i mentioned about the giant robot woman in the Thames festival parade I’m going to talk about this woman in more detail

    If you follow the link above you can see a clip of the giant robot woman at the beginning of the video, she was mechanised to walk look around move her arms and head and blink. I have yet to find out who the woman was meant to be but we figured she looked quite alot like Kate Winslet although one of the guys i was with questioned if she was supposed to be Brittania. She was wearing a real giant dress made of a real green material which was fairly see through perhaps hinting to the sexual fantasies of her maker, she lead the parade through london and the overall message I gained from the crowd was that most people found her creepy as she was so life like I also felt this myself. I did not fully see the point in the giant woman as I did not fully understand who or what she was supposed to represent but she was entertaining all the same.

    I find it strange straight away how i refer to this giant robot as she purely because she takes a female form. I questioned this in the lecture as well, how we spoke about the children autonoma as if they were human referring to them as he and she. I think its wierd how we know they are not human but we think of them as human purely because of what they look like.

  10. When discussing Vaucanson’s poo-ing duck from the 1740’s, I couldn’t stop my mind being sidetracked by my childhood toy Baby Born- because she poos too! Although, there is nothing mechanical about her, it did bring me on to do more research into Brook’s ‘My Real Baby Doll’, which does have a mechanical system inside! There are sensors on the baby so that when a nappy has been changed the crying stops, it burps, it cries, it wheezes when it is laid on it’s back, and then falls asleep with a little snore. I’m not sure if this was the same as Brook’s My Very Real Baby Doll, but I found a version on Amazon which giggles when you tickle it’s feet, dribbles when you give it an ice lolly and closes her eyes when laid down. Although my Baby Born could only poo when the ‘milk’ had fallen through it’s empty inside, these modern dolls are much more realistic.

    “The doll had to remain at a level of entertainment… rather than becoming an actual stimulation of life” (Wood: xxv)

    Should the dolls start to look more realistic than just plastic and googly eyes, would we still enjoy them as children? And what’s more, would the parents still buy them! If the toy becomes another member of the family, would it still have an attraction. Is it healthy for us to have an stimulation of human life as a child? I’ll have a think about that, but i’m sure it isn’t! Could future generations grow up and not understand the difference between their toy and real life if the toys portray life so realistically? So many questions…

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